Caroline Polachek’s expansive range shines through on her latest album
Caroline Polachek's expansive range shines through on her latest album
Desire is simultaneously a euphoric and agonizing sensation; the prospect of romance is a hazy cloud over almost everyone’s day-to-day lives. Indie-pop darling Caroline Polachek is not immune to the transformative force of falling in love, and her new album Desire, I Want To Turn Into You morphs her emotional lyrics into an all-consuming soundscape. The cover presents Polachek crawling on all fours through a New York subway, leaving the throng of daily commuters in order to escape to the sandy paradise that awaits her.
Polachek has been in the music industry for over 20 years, first as half of the indie-pop act Chairlift, then as a solo artist. Her debut album Pang was crafted with the cities of Los Angeles and London in mind, but the pandemic urged her to escape to the Mediterranean with her boyfriend, driving around Rome and then residing below the Mount Etna volcano in Sicily. Polachek cited the volcano’s unpredictability as an influence of the record, and this shows itself on opener “Welcome To My Island,” a sonic paradise that illustrates Polachek’s profound yearning. The album’s lead single “Bunny Is A Rider” similarly revels in escapist fantasy with lyrics such as “Satellite can’t find her” and “I’m so non-physical.”
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Polachek’s use of negative space on Desire, I Want To Turn Into You positions an otherwise pop-centric record into the realm of the avant-garde. If “Welcome To My Island” is the lava flowing from Mount Etna, “Crude Drawing Of An Angel” is the cavernous depths of the volcano itself. The album’s closing track “Billions” is the thesis of Polachek’s futuristic vision. A children’s choir is featured wailing “I never felt so close to you” as Danny L Harle’s hyperpop production drones into oblivion. Is Polachek singing from the Vatican, or an alien spaceship?
Many American artists take a contemporary approach to protest music by reflecting upon the tumultuous and upsetting last few years with direct lyricism. Polachek’s work does not utilize these techniques, yet is not necessarily apolitical; she turns her sexuality and longing into a radical commentary on the state of our world. When hearing the lyrics “So many stories we were told about a safety net / But when I look for it, it’s just a hand that’s holding mine” on the track “Sunset,” I cannot help but recall COVID-19, except she replaces imagery of death and tragedy into a metaphor of two lovers facing catastrophe together.
While considering the album’s title, it is difficult to tell if Polachek wants to turn into desire as a concept, or transform into her lover’s body. The excellent track “Blood And Butter” consists of Polachek singing of diving through her partner’s face into “the sweetest kind of pain.” The image is all-at-once monstrous and lovely, much like a tangible mixture of blood and butter would be. While Polachek took to Twitter in January to explain her hatred of Kate Bush comparisons (“SHE is our generation’s Kate Bush…I am this generation’s Caroline Polachek,” she explained), “Blood And Butter” and its descent into manic bagpipes recalls Bush’s “Jig Of Life” so vividly that I queued the 1985 track directly after.
The driving force behind the diverse tracklist of Desire, I Want To Turn Into You is Polachek’s vocal performances. A 2021 New Yorker profile revealed her bel canto opera training, and Polachek’s range shows itself on tracks like “Sunset” and “Butterfly Net.” Her expansive and almost desperate notes leave Polachek’s desire central and bare; after all, are pain and pleasure not equally crucial to the human experience?